Reverse Engineering

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SWBAT evaluate an advertised new toy and create a prototype from using only the advertisement as a guide.

Big Idea

New product competition is fierce. Can you bring this new toy to market first?

The Need for the Lesson

One way engineers learn about technology is by reverse engineering. Engineers can take apart gadgets to see how they work. Understanding how gadgets function can lead to suggestions for improvement or ideas for new products. The process requires careful observation and analysis. Practicing with this simple toy may inspire students to delve into other gadgets to see how they work.

Investigation Preparation & Summary

5 minutes

Students will learn and use the vocabulary of engineers, defining problems, constraints and criteria for success. (MS-ETS1.1 - Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.)

Students collaborate to design and build a new toy based only on an advertisement (MS-ETS1.2 - Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.)

Students are encouraged to modify their design as needed to make the very best toy. The toy that performs most reliably and quickly will be considered as success. (MS-ETS1.3 - Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.)

An important understanding for students in that engineering is an iterative process. They will design and test solutions multiple times. (MS-ETS1.4 - Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.) (SP2 - Developing and Using Models)

A complete materials list can be found in the resources section.

This lesson was inspired by:

 "Supersonic Spies." PBS. PBS, 1 June 2007. Web. 17 June 2015.

Students in Action

45 minutes

I start this lesson by talking about cell phones. This is one of my students' favorite topics.

What do you think cell phone companies do when their competitors introduce a new phone? They try to copy it.

What do you mean copy it? The competitors want to know what the new phone does and how it works.

Why do you think this is important to the competing companies? They make money selling phones and they can sell people new phones if they have all the features people want.

I have an advertisement here for a new toy. (Page 2 of the student handout found here) I give students copies of the advertisement and we read it together.

Your challenge engineers is to make a duplicate of the toy advertised here. We want you to design a Puff Machine we can deliver to consumers on or before the release date of our competitors Puff Machine.

You will have the following materials; paper cup, straw, rubber band, paperclip, string and paper to make a pinwheel. You can use scissors and a hole punch as well. Your version of the Puff Machine should be able to lift the cup up and down. The faster the toy works they better.

Your Puff Machine should lift the cup from the rim to the straw 30 centimeters. Keep that in mind when you collect your string. You will need a string longer that 30 centimeters if you tie the ends to parts of your machine.

At this point students are looking for instructions. I tell them the only instructions they have is the drawing and information provided to them on the advertisement.

I ask how many student have ever made pinwheels. Only a few hands go up so I demonstrate how to make a pinwheel. I used a template for a pinwheel found here however any template will work.

Students spend the next several minutes selecting materials. 

I walk around the room and listen to their discussions as they try to figure out how the Puff Machine works. There are several attempts as design and redesign.

Students ask if they can make new pinwheels, use different paper, string or different size cups. I agree and remind them that they can replace supplies but not add to the original supply list. Tape is almost always requested and refused.

I plan for students to be finished at the end of the class periods so they can show off their products but every class needs a few more minutes the next day.

Each group presents their Puff Machine, highlighting what makes their design unique and then demonstrates how quickly the cup can move up and down.

We keep a chart on the board and acknowledge the best design at the end of the presentations.

While students are testing and presenting, I make sure they break between each so they do not become light headed. I also ask that students with asthma let the other team members do the puffs to demonstrate the machine.

In this short video, I share the inspiration for this lesson and where you can find instructions for a finished product.